While Aleix Espargaro has been positively impressed by Aprilia’s 2020 RS-GP MotoGP upgrade, he’s also felt an overall shift in how the team operates and hopes the combination of changes provide progress in terms of results.

The Spaniard caught the eye in terms of both race pace and straight-line speed at the Sepang pre-season test as he debuted the new RS-GP equipped with the 90-degree V4 engine plus a raft of chassis updates.

Espargaro ended the test at Sepang in 10th place on the combined timesheet, 0.345s off pace-setter Fabio Quartararo on the Petronas Yamaha, but it was his long runs where he was able to shine which points towards a clear improvement in performance from the Noale factory.

“The lap time we did with the bike of just three days, the 1m 58.6s and the 12-lap race simulation that I think has been the strongest – we have proved that our competitiveness has been high,” Espargaro said at the end of the Sepang test.

With results on track remaining the true indicator of progress for Aprilia, Espargaro also feels the manufacturer’s new CEO Massimo Rivola has been instrumental working on internal improvements. Rivola joined the Italian squad 12 months ago in a move to free up Romano Albesiano to enable him to focus on leading the engineering efforts.

Rivola has also been busy bulking up Aprilia’s engineering department and taking technical staff from both rival MotoGP teams and from Formula 1.

“He is coming from another world completely but he is a really smart guy and what he is doing is improving every area and making us work like a big team,” Espargaro said at Sepang. “We were in the past, Aprilia has always been a big brand, but we were working a little bit like a small team. This was a mistake.

“Now every single area of the team has improved and grown so we have a lot more engineers. It is true, some of them are coming from F1 with fresh ideas. We have to give more time there because the bike is completely new but also the engineers started to work these last three or four months so they need more time to improve the bike.

“Obviously F1 is completely different but in terms of technology I think they are better than the MotoGP paddock.”

Espargaro hopes the changes make up for lost time having endured two tricky MotoGP campaigns as he felt there was a lack of progress from Aprilia.

“I think they are two things that go together,” he explained. “The new bike is obviously much better and I was expecting this bike two years ago but also the team has grown a lot.

“I feel that we are now a top factory and I didn’t have this feeling these last two years and I think that if we want to fight for the top this is just the beginning as we have a long way in front of us.

“But this is very promising in terms of being competitive with the bike and also with the team and the engineers that have arrived. Everything looks better.”

Espargaro and the rest of the MotoGP grid heads to Qatar next for the final pre-season test on February 22-24 before the Losail International Circuit hosts the 2020 opening round on March 8.

Aprilia’s biggest headache remains Andrea Iannone’s ongoing suspension after failing an anti-doping test from last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Italian had to miss the Sepang shakedown and official tests as his FIM hearing took place, while his future remains unclear until a final decision is made on his case and what, if any, suspension it carries. According to reports, Iannone’s lawyers presented a hair sample which hasn’t shown any trace of the banned substance Drostanolone that was found in both his urine samples taken at Sepang.

Bradley Smith continues to wait in the wings if needed to replace Iannone for the upcoming MotoGP season, while Aprilia called on Lorenzo Savadori to fill-in on testing duty at the Sepang tests.